Sambucus canadensis

American Elder




  • native to eastern United States
  • hardy to zone 4, and warmer parts of 3

Habit and Form

  • a deciduous shrub
  • multi-stemmed
  • broad and rounded crown
  • arching branches
  • 5' to 12' tall
  • medium texture
  • fast growth rate

Summer Foliage

  • opposite leaf arrangement
  • odd-pinnately, compound leaves
  • 5 to 11 leaflets, usually 7
  • 2" to 6" long
  • sharply serrated
  • lobed
  • dark green leaf color

Autumn Foliage

  • yellowish-green fall color
  • not ornamentally important


  • white flowers
  • blooms in July
  • borne in cymes, 6" to 10 " across
  • showy


  • purplish-black fruit
  • drupe
  • matures in September
  • edible


  • yellowish-gray stems
  • covered in lenticels
  • crescent-shaped leaf scars


  • transplants easily
  • prefers moist soil
  • pH adaptable

Landscape Use

  • naturalized effect
  • bogs
  • for fruit


  • powdery mildew
  • leaf spot

ID Features

  • usually no terminal bud
  • brown and small lateral buds


  • by seed
  • by division
  • by semi-hardwood cuttings


'Acutiloba' (also listed as 'Laciniata') - This more demure form features leaflets that are deeply incised. It grows to 8' tall and does not fruit as well as the species.

'Adams' and 'York' - Selected for their larger, more numerous fruits, these selections are often planted by gardeners interested in the edible fruit. They are otherwise similar to the species.

'Aurea' - Probably the most common form of the species, this plant presents golden leaves that hold their color -- even in warm summer areas. It reaches 10' tall and wide, but is often pruned harshly every spring to force fresh foliage.

'Variegata' - The narrow leaflets of this selection are outlined in creamy white-yellow. It appreciates some protection from direct sun.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

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Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.